Raptors/Wizards: The Running Diary

Scheduled for post-game coverage of last night’s Raptors/Wiz clash, I wanted to do something a little different than just blasting out some analysis. Thinking through my options, there were four factors that ended up making up my mind for me:

a) the Toronto Raptors somehow led the Atlantic for the first time in SIX years (at 5 and 7, no less),

b) My roommate was out of town and I had the TV/PVR to myself,

c) I had absolutely no plans on a Friday night,

d) I didn’t have the energy nor the brainpower to think up my own unique column idea.

All of this brought about the proverbial perfect storm for a blatant rip-off of a classic Bill Simmons column gimmick: the running diary. So excuse me for a second while I channel my inner Simmons:

Will the Raps pull within a game of .500 and strengthen their division lead? Will the impressive passing and long-range shooting we saw in Philly continue? How many times will commentators say “division-leading Toronto Raptors?”

Well, if you’re reading this, you probably know the answers to the first two questions (here’s William’s quick reax and player grades from last night). But, in any case, read on for number three:

Pre-Game/1st Quarter

7:02 EST: TSN2’s broadcast opens with Gurdeep Ahluwalia stumbling over his “division leading Toronto Raptors” line. He sounds about as flabbergasted as Renata Ford looked on stage during Rob’s press conference (alright, got it out of my system. No more Rob Ford references. Promise). “Division leading Toronto Raptors” count is now at 1.

7:04: Matt and Jack talk about Rudy Gay’s passing. Shockingly, they have enough footage to fill a minute-long highlight reel. I kid, I kid – but one game does not a new trend make. We’ll see what happens tonight.

7:08: Side note: I love the fact that we finally have a national sports commentator named “Gurdeep.” It’s about damn time. Gurdeeps of the world, unite!

7:11: Marcin Gortat beats JV on the tip. “Division leading Toronto Raptors” count is now at 3. Solid start.

7:12: Amir Johnson starts off the Raptor O with a huge dunk off some nice passing by Rudy and DeMar. Rudy Gay: making me eat my words since… eight minutes ago.

7:14: Nene’s already hit two jumpers from the elbow. Jonas, I hope you’re taking notes. Raptors up early and the unselfish play from Wednesday seems to have continued – I’m really liking the ball movement on the offensive end.

7:16: Jonas gets his first points of the night on a pretty jump hook over Marcin Gortat. Both teams are really clicking offensively so far: it’s 11-11 after just four minutes.

7:19: A 6-0 Raptor run leads to Washington’s first timeout. I’m really impressed with the Raptor passing – the drive-and-dish game is working much better than iso ball, to the surprise of absolutely nobody who watches this team/basketball in general. Raps lead 19-14 halfway through the first and Washington’s only staying in it due to some great long-range shooting.

7:21: A Rudy Gay iso possession leads to a) no shot attempt and b) a fast-break Washington layup. Well, it was fun while it lasted.

7:24: A quick Wizards run has them up 24-21. Jack Armstrong is harping on the Raps’ D, but it seems like Washington’s just making a lot of really tough shots, for the most part.

7:25: Rudy Gay goes iso again, and is promptly subbed out for Steve Novak. Hey, maybe Dwayne Casey reads RR!

7:26: A huge weak side block by DeMar leads to a Raptor fast break, which leads to an absolutely ridiculous 360 layup attempt/offensive foul. That sequence perfectly personified the 2013/2014 Raptor motto: “one for you, one for me.”

7:29: The Raptor five of Lowry/DD/Novak/Amir/Hansbrough is torching Washington’s second unit on both ends of the floor, and the Raptors have opened up a four-point lead. I suppose when Jan Vesely’s your first player off the bench, you’ll take that most nights.

7:31: Amir Johnson gets called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, which leads to a long discussion by Matt and Jack about whether or not LeBron would have gotten the same call. The answer, of course: nobody cares. Don’t hang on the rim.

7:34: First quarter is over, and the Raptors lead 32-27. Goofy 360 attempt aside, DeMar DeRozan was clearly the Raptor star – the stats say he thrives as the primary scoring option with Gay off the floor, and the eye test proves it. Really, really impressive. The D’s been better than the score suggests, too, besides giving up some early open looks to the Wizard guards.

2nd Quarter/Halftime

7:36: The second quarter begins with Julyan Stone getting his chance to seize (actually, seize is too strong a word – let’s say “not totally obliterate”) the backup point guard spot. My Dad, who is in Toronto from Yellowknife and happens to be at the game, texts me: “Who is 77?”

7:37: Sounds like Dwight Buycks isn’t playing tonight for personal reasons – I’m assuming it has something to do with his father’s recent passing. Thoughts and prayers to the Buycks family from all of RR.

7:38: Tyler Hansbrough starts the quarter with two baskets inside off nice post-moves. My Dad, again: “Guy that is good to watch is Hansbrough. He understands what to do.” Yes. Yes he does.

7:40: Jan Vesely airballs a lay-up. The Raptor bench has pushed the lead to 11. These two things are definitely related.

7:42: Jonas, who’s re-entered the game, misses a wide open 15-footer, his second tonight. I’m happy to see him shooting those, but it’s still definitely a work in progress.

7:45: Rudy Gay’s back in the game. In the two possessions since, he’s missed a long, contested two and lost the ball in a double team. Does anyone else think #tanknation and #tradeRudy nation might be at odds with one another at this point?

7:45: My Dad: “Rudy sucks!!!” It’s not THAT simple, but I definitely understand your point, Dad.

7:47: In all seriousness, it’s shocking how different it’s been watching the Raptor second unit + Rudy and the Raptor second unit + DeMar. Part of that has to do with the opposing team’s defense sending a second guy Gay’s way, but he’s got to learn to – and want to – pass out of those double-teams to find the open man. The Raptor offence has slowed to a crawl at this point – luckily, Washington’s has too. 40-31 Toronto, halfway through the second.

7:49: Rudy, again making me eat my words, makes two gorgeous passes out of double-teams on two straight possessions – unfortunately, one leads to a missed open shot attempt by Lowry and Jonas is blocked on the other. Maybe he plays this much 1-on-1 for a reason.

7:54: The Raptors advertise a “girls only clinic with Terrence Ross.” Mothers, lock up your daughters!

7:56: Boos coming from the crowd off a missed Rudy Gay jumper. That’s never a good sign. On a side note, there’s a minute and a half left in the 2nd and the Wizards have only scored 6 points – the Raptors’ help defence has been really impressive this quarter. Washington can’t find the open looks they had in the first, and they can’t seem to generate anything one-on-one. Also, Washington really, really needs John Wall or Brad Beal on the floor to score.

8:00: Terrence Ross gets beaten on two straight defensive possessions to end the quarter – he’s definitely improving on that end, but when the other team gets a step on him, it looks BAD. The first half’s over, though, and the Raps lead by thirteen, 51-38. DeMar’s looked like a star on the offensive end, and Psycho-T and Amir Johnson have both been impressive as well. “Division leading Toronto Raptors” count is only at 5. Step it up, Jack Armstrong.

8:11: During “Fast Break,” Leo Rautins takes the Vince Carter/Dwight Howard “CryBabyGate” saga as a chance to call Vince a wimp himself. We tackle the hard issues here on TSN2.

8:13: Leo, dissecting the Knicks’ poor start: “Andrea Bargnani, is Andrea Bargnani!” He’s on a roll here. I can only assume we’re in for a Rafael Araujo diss next.

8:16: Assistant coach Jesse Mermuys lets it slip that Rudy’s feeling “a little under the weather.” Now, this is just what I’ve heard on through the grapevine, but apparently he’s come down with Jason Territis.

Third Quarter

8:18: DeRozan starts off the third with two questionable attempts early in the shot-clock. Apparently Jason Territis is contagious.

8:20: Jonas gets blocked again off a nice hand-off by Rudy Gay. He’s really having trouble getting off offensively against the Gortat/Nene front line, even though he’s gotten his fair share of touches. It’s been said on here a lot, but adding an element of unpredictability to his offensive game will be the next big step in his development.

8:23: Washington starts the quarter on an 8-2 run and the Raptors call timeout. The whole team, save Lowry, has come out flat early in the quarter – the Wizards seem to be scoring at will on the pick and roll. Score’s now 53-46, Raps.

8:26: The Wiz have started to double-team DeMar on every possession, smartly. Rudy Gay’s current thoughts: “time to make Garrett eat his words, AGAIN.”

8:27: Coming out of the timeout, two Raptor turnovers trim the lead to just three. All of a sudden, the passing on offense looks forced instead of flowing, the turnovers are coming, and Washington is not a team you want to face in transition. It’s looking like Randy Wittman’s made some smart adjustments at halftime, and now it’s up to Casey to adjust back/bust out his magic 8-ball and ask for advice.

8:28: Even with the Raptors struggling on offence, Kyle Lowry is absolutely threading needles out there. He just hit Jonas for a dunk through a space smaller than a plate of Oliver Miller leftovers.

8:28: Speaking of leftovers, apparently the Raps talk strategy around the dinner table when they visit each other’s hometowns. How many shots do you think the team did at Rudy’s place?

8:28: OK, that last one was terrible. My apologies.

8:32: John Wall ties the game at 57 with an unbelievable reverse layup. He’s got 11 in the quarter and may or may not have just burst into flames.

8:33: Wall comes right back with an and-1 layup around Lowry to give the Wizards the lead. He’s officially in Landry Fields’ girlfriend territory.

8:34: Wall hits again. I don’t know how to explain how hot he is right now, except that it’s somehow involved in the answer to “could Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it?”

8:35: Jan Vesely gets his own rebound twice, misses thrice.

8:42: Kevin Seraphin just banked a DeMar shot attempt into his own hoop off his shoulder. Hey, you have to get the bench going somehow.

8:44: Eric Maynor gets in on the action and pushes the Washington lead to six. Takeaway from this quarter: the Wizards shoot a LOT of long two-pointers. As Raptor fans know, when you’ve got a couple guys on at the same time, or even one, like the white-hot Wall, it can sure be fun to watch. That’s certainly been a reason for the huge turnaround, but another big part of it is the Raptors’ sputtering O – it appears their strategy to the Wiz double-teaming DeMar and jumping passing lanes was to revert back to classic Raptor hero-ball. Dwayne Casey, ladies and gentlemen!

8:46: The third quarter mercifully comes to an end. Washington leads 70-66 after a quarter than can best be described as a) John Wall and b) this. The Raps shot 22.2% in the third. Yipes.

Fourth Quarter

8:49: We begin the fourth with a Lowry/Ross/Novak/Gay/Johnson five for Toronto. One thing I’ll say I’m surprised about is that we haven’t seen that Lowry/DD/Novak/Amir/Hansbrough line that seemed to work so well early – I’m not saying that any of the other players are individually at fault for the team losing the lead, but when a group is clicking that well together, you might want to get them back on the floor at some point.

8:51: DJ Augustin checks in to give Lowry a blow and promptly hits a 3 – his first of the season – to give the Raptors the lead. I don’t know how to feel just now.

8:55: Amir Johnson finds a slashing Terrence Ross on the baseline for a wide-open dunk – the Raptors are now back up by 3. Gorgeous, gorgeous pass by Amir, but this Wizard bench sure is bad. The Wiz call timeout to get John Wall in quicker than your average Austin Daye sighting.

8:56: Augustin finds Jonas on a gorgeous drive and dish and the Raptors are back in control. You’ve got to hand it to him tonight – his number was called, and he’s producing. I’m shuddering to think of what John Wall might do to him on the other end, though.

8:57: RUDY GAY! He just came through with a gorgeous spin move and a massive block on what looked like a wide-open Nene layup. #KeepRudy #MrFourthQuarter #allisforgiven

8:58: And Rudy is subbed out for DeMar. What do I know.

9:00: An Augustin drive-and-kick leads to a clean Terrence Ross 3 and a ten-point Raptor lead. Did somebody tell him it was 2011? Did he find Michael’s secret stuff? What the heck is happening?

9:03: DeMar’s really been neutralized in the second half on offense after the Wizards started keying on him. That, combined with his troubles staying in front of Brad Beal, is bringing him back to Earth a bit from his huge start. I really don’t like it when he forces plays – when he’s playing well, you forget about that. But when he’s not, he does. A lot.

9:05: A couple of Wall free throws cut the lead back to four and Kyle Lowry subs back in. Word is that DJ Augustin has headed straight out of the building and is en-route to the nearest casino. What a game for him.

9:06: I should mention that there’s four minutes left in the game and Rudy Gay is still on the bench. Read into that what you will.

9:08: Steve Novak attempts to draw a charge on Brad Beal but ends up giving up the and-1 to cut the deficit to 3. I honestly can’t understand why he’s still in the game, given that he hasn’t contributed offensively and Rudy (and Amir) are still sitting on the bench. Questionable sub patterns by Casey.

9:09: And Novak comes out for Rudy. Hey, sometimes I do know what I’m talking about!

9:10: Rudy promptly hits a gorgeous turnaround jumper over a double team to stop the bleeding. I forgot to mention that one of the symptoms of Jason Territis is being unstoppable in the fourth.

9:14: With a minute and a half to go and the Raps up 6, John Wall is fouled, makes one of two, gets his own rebound, and knocks down a three. Two point game. It’s hard to type out Matt Devlin’s call, but here’s my best attempt: “Ball comes out, Wall, with a three….. GUBLUGHUGH!”

9:15: King Rudy responds with a gorgeous jumper. Has an NBA player ever been paid 19 million to just play the fourth? Should we make history?

9:17: Bradley Beal misses a 3, and with 17 seconds left and the Raptors up 6, it’s all over but the free throws. Raps improve to 6 and 7 on the season, with the Brooklyn Nets coming to town Tuesday. The only thing left to wonder about now is how much Jack and Matt can improve on the dismal “division leading Toronto Raptors” count by the end of the broadcast – they’re currently stuck at an embarrassing 5. The one night I do a running diary and I need them to be homers…

9:18: 6!

9:19: Quincy Acy looks like a slim, black Big Show in his off-day suit. In a good way. I realize how confusing that statement is.

9:24: It’s honestly incredible how quickly the ACC clears out after a game. I can’t be the only one who notices this. One commercial break is all it takes.

9:25: 7!

9:26: I just realized how ridiculous watching the post-game coverage while waiting for that sound bite is. Channel changed. Thanks for nothing, Matt and Jack.

Final Thoughts

This column’s already over 2,500 words, so I’ll keep this brief: the Raptors played three excellent quarters tonight around one awful one. For the most part, I was impressed with their passing – they ended up with 22 assists on 37 field goals – and it’s certainly a promising signal that the Philly performance was indicative of a change in philosophy and not just the team deciding to turn it up for one game. All in all, managing to come back and re-take control of the game against a superstar-calibre player in John Wall who was going OFF is certainly a good sign for the few Raptor fans who want to see this core take their best shot at the playoffs. One of the Raptors’ best efforts of the season, and we’ll see how real this apparent change in offensive philosophy is with their next few games, with Brooklyn, Miami, and Golden State on the schedule.

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